Talk about the great legacy that is Jack O'Connor

Rockpile Buck

Rockpile Buck

Postby Phil Andresen » Wed Apr 09, 2014 9:05 am

With just two days remaining in our annual mule deer season, any likelihood of tagging a buck was looking pretty grim. There was no deer migration, no forecast for winter weather and I hadn’t seen a legal buck.
Friday night my son Jeff joined me for the season’s last balmy weekend.

Saturday morning, in predawn darkness, we separated to hunt a big steep knob; later we regrouped at a rocky vantage point on its east side. From there we glassed distant slopes while quietly comparing notes from our trek: no fresh sign or tracks.

Earlier in the week I heard plenty of shooting, most of it was down on the valley floor; probably locals tagging ‘yard deer’ on private property. Still, there were occasional shots higher up, well above the valley in the ‘foothills’.

I believe heavy frost in the high country affects some of the deer’s browse, forces them to move down in search of better feed and this gets the migration started. With hard frosts in the valley I assumed deer were on the move but had yet to see any of the typical doe/yearling/fawn family groups. When snow finally hits the high country deer move out; then, in just a couple days there’s an obvious surge of does and family groups into the valley. Mature bucks often travel with the does or follow closely behind; but it is also common to see deer 'clans' traveling or feeding together without any bucks.

In this wide-open country of rolling hills, steep canyons, bitterbrush and sage, it’s common to find deer just about anywhere. We decided to split up again. Jeff would hunt the broad bitterbrush face to the west; I was to loop further southeast, then circle back to the northwest and join him later. If either of us saw anything we would use our GPSs to communicate.

Daylight brought another cold, bright, autumn morning; as the sun peeked slowly over the top of the tallest distant ridge, Jeff struck out alone to hunt the west face.

The morning was still and quiet; frigid nights had turned the tamaracks golden and falling aspen leaves drifted quietly across the hillside. I leaned back against a huge rock to savor Mother Nature's best. My hands were cold and I was fighting off the shivers but watching the world wake up is one of my favorites, the sun would warm me soon enough.

As dawn’s golden glow spread across the rocky face below, it added detail and depth to an already scenic view. Since we knew the area held very little game, glassing didn’t seem like a priority; I focused here, and there, and lazily swept the broad vistas fully expecting not to see anything; but also hoping something might magically appear.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, as I stood to leave, my casual glance downhill caught what appeared to be sticks, no… antler tips protruding from the rocks below. Shifting positions and glassing, I quickly recognized the buck’s left shoulder, then his left hip; he was lying north/south, facing east, away from me. Since the antlers were motionless I assumed he was napping... wondered to myself, what are the odds?

I ranged him at forty-eight yards; then watched him closely while considering my options. Because of the rising thermals I was confident he wouldn’t scent me; my concern was that if he ‘jumped’ from his bed, he would disappear into the steep terrain in just a second or two, too quickly for a shot… He was well hidden, leaned back against the rocks. A stalk was impossible, the loose shale and dry pine duff was too noisey… we were already too close.

My only options were to wait him out or to shoot him now… I’m terrible at waiting. My only lethal shot was at a very narrow strip of his upper spine, I took careful aim and fired twice. The angle was steep, the shots were off-hand and both missed. The antlers didn’t move after either shot, this made me wonder if he might be injured or worse. But then, after a minute or two, the buck slowly stood and stared blankly to the south.

At 48 yards the .270 Berger VLD spent all its energy fragmenting the tiny little tip of that hollow-point bullet; its impact spun the buck 180 degrees, put him down without a twitch.

Jeff was excited to learn I had connected. He returned in short order to check-out the buck; took a couple pictures, then went off to hunt while I ‘boned’ the meat.

When I cut the hide lengthwise along the backbone to expose the ‘back-straps’ and shoulder, I found a pin-hole entry wound in the hide; that pin-hole blossomed into a gaping entry wound on the surface of the ribcage. The wound encompassed several ribs, the internal damage was devastating. At the time I was focused on my task and chose not to search for the spent Berger, but I wish I had.

The buck’s antlers were just twenty inches wide, with good color, sweeping front forks and good G-3s, but very weak G-2s which is common for this area; he was fat as a hog and in excellent condition.

With one buck in the cooler we hiked into a different area for Jeff’s evening hunt.

Sunday we returned to ‘the rocks’ for Jeff’s last morning. On the way in, we heard shooting up ahead of us and met several young fellas who had ridden in before daylight on quads. During the night something had dragged the buck’s remains down the hill; the guys hadn’t seen any deer on their ride in, but they were having a great time shooting at coyotes scavenging our carcass.
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Phil Andresen
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